Tucked In

Chesne, Christian & Paul Almost every other weekend for almost 18 years I have had the privilege of tucking a certain young boy and then a young man into bed. Okay, we haven’t called it tucking in for a number of years now, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been there to turn down the TV or turn off the light long after he has fallen asleep. When my nephew Christian was little I used to pull the GI Joe action figures and micro machines out from under the covers so he could roll over without crushing them. Today, it’s more likely to be the remote control and corn chips, but I still sneak in to check on him. He’s grown from a slim sliver of a child into a broad shouldered man, once a tiny comma in the same bed his father once occupied, now a long, slender exclamation point.

Today, he set out to leave his mark on the world, enlisting in the National Guard. His parents, my brother Paul and his high school girlfriend Chesne, traveled with him to watch his swearing in. For months I tried to talk him out of this, wait until you are older, are you sure this is what you want? Not because I’m not proud of him, I am, but because he is our little boy and I never want him to come in harm’s way. I felt the same way about his father, when he, at the age of 33, enlisted last year. They are always our little boys, but, me, and his mother, and his Nana, know that for Christian to become a man we need to let him make his own choices. Every good parent learns this, every good parent feels its sting and ultimately, its payoff.

We will never let go of this kid, but we will let him go off into the world. He carries the best of us with him. It took a whole family to raise him: his grandparents, his parents, their partners, his aunts and uncles, even the family dog – when our pug Buffy died at 12, it was Christian who said “she raised us all,” and she did. We poured all our love into this kid and he’s grown to hold it all.  Such love can be smothering, if you’re not strong enough to bear it, he’s iron and honey, steel and grace. He will serve his country well.

And, I will sneak into his room. I did last night after the recruiter drove him away. I found his television still on, so I rummaged for the remote, buried in his unmade bed and turned it off.  He will serve his country, but I will continue to serve the boy, long after he has grown, long after he has become a man. I will forever be checking to make sure he is safe.

Being Near

Blog me and chris copy I experienced two deaths this week -- the grandmother and matriarch of a family with whom I am close and my 94-year-old great aunt. There was a huge funeral for the first, while my great aunt will have a tiny graveside service Monday with only a few family members in attendance. In both cases, the grief experienced belonged more to others than myself. I loved my great aunt, but she had been in a nursing home for almost a decade, having lost most of her mind to dementia. She was not the type of person who would ever have wished this for herself (who would?), but in a family of three sisters, she prided herself on being the intellectual. She felt my grandmother was the pretty one, and by being an artist, writing poems, participating in myriad church and community groups, having strong opinions on culture and politics, that she had a role to fill. Leaving behind a good obituary was more important to her than an actual funeral service. My grandmother is the one truly feeling the loss. This was her last surviving sister, now she is the only one of her generation left and at 92 her own mortality must weigh heavily on her mind. Today, she reminded me, “you are my precious granddaughter, I want you to know that.” I do.

The grandmother of the boy I love was not someone with whom I was close, but she set the rhythms of his family. Holidays and visits were about going to Grammie’s, seeing Grammie, making sure Grammie was all right. Like an old family clock that chimed regularly to tell the hour, her family dinners and holiday gatherings foretold the comings and goings of this clan. And, while I knew she would be missed, I was not prepared to deal with my boy’s pain. He choked back tears at the funeral home because he is a man and the eldest grandson, and he does not make a display in public. So I sat with him in our stiff backed chairs, our bodies pressed close together, my arm around his back, his around mine as people chatted around us and looked upon each other with sad and soulful eyes.

In these moments, the eyes talk the loudest, saying more than words. They hold tears and smiles and questions and comfort, because few words would do. Words are good for so much – explaining, informing, sharing, letting another know that he is not alone, but when it comes to pain, they are a mild elixir, at best . So I sit and sit some more until decorum causes him to rise and serve his function as pallbearer. We follow the line of cars to the burial site, good soldiers all in a row, acting out the order of nature – life then death. And, on a bright Friday noon hour, I stand near him to bid his Grammie goodbye. We return to her house for food prepared by others. Stopping first for a picture – my friend, my brother and I. The three of us have not been together like this in years. Once we rode on wind and music through the night, enjoying the concerts of our youth. Today, time and responsibilities have claimed us, but we gather and we pause and we return to the home that his Grammie left where everyone changes clothes, eats food, and reminisces. We fall back into the rhythms of life.  Still, I sit by my friend and call my own Grammie. I show love simply by being near.